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Re: [ontolog-forum] Science, Statistics and Ontology

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Rich Cooper" <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2011 08:26:20 -0800
Message-id: <E06A1E3818AE418E8A3D702A04A7B5B0@Gateway>

Dear Matthew,


Thanks for your thoughts. 


You wrote:

When I hit a nail with a hammer 100 times and notice that it this makes it enter the piece of wood, this is not a matter merely of statistics, which we can interpret as we wish. There is an underlying mechanism that we can observe. This is true generally. The statistics can help us to consider what we should be trying to observe as a mechanism, and we may establish theories which we can prove, or disprove, but it is not “purely subjective”.


I read Hume’s point as indicating that KNOWING you are hitting the nail, KNOWING that wood is what you nailed the last fifty thousand times, and KNOWING that the nail has always in the past sunk into the wood after hitting it, are all SUBJECTIVE observations. 


Suppose that you had never seen a nail, a piece of wood, or a hammer.  Perhaps you were raised in an Amazonian tribe cut off from the woof and warp of civilization, and you were six years old.  You have subjective knowledge of the jungle, of the animals as told to you by others in the tribe, and so on.  You would have no concept of the wood as construction material, of the hammer as a device to alter structures, or of the nail as a fastening mechanism. 


Then you walk out of the woods, grow up, get a job in construction as a carpenter.  In the woods, you couldn’t have any experience with hammers nails and wood.  In you new (subjectively informed) role as a carpenter, you do have such knowledge after being shown how to nail by another carpenter, and after trying it yourself a few times. 


This gedankenexperiment should show that it is learning how to interpret the hammer, the nail and the wood with the action of hitting the nail is all subjective.  Hume’s quote indicates that all such learning is subjective, at least to my subjective interpretation.  Yours may differ of course, but it is still necessarily subjective. 


Before you develop knowledge, you don’t see the truth of the hammer nail and wood.  After learning it (as Hume pointed out) you do see it. 


But occasionally, you will miss the head of the nail and strike your thumb instead.  The nail doesn’t penetrate the wood, but your thumb is strongly affected.  So perhaps one in a few hundred times, the nail will not penetrate the wood due to a bad strike, a bent nail, or knotted wood. 


So I remain convinced that even understanding the situation in which the experiment applies is subjective.  There is no objective information there – it is all in the way you understand how to apply the hammer to the nail and the wood to achieve the desired effect. 


Do you still feel otherwise?  It would be nice to read your response.  But it seems to me that the discovery operation sequence required to understand any situation is based on experience of some sort, perhaps only the experience of being told, but nevertheless on experience and therefore on subjective knowledge of past events. 





Rich Cooper


Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com

9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2

From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Matthew West
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2011 12:37 AM
To: '[ontolog-forum] '
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Science, Statistics and Ontology


Dear Rich,




When I hit a nail  with a hammer 100 times and notice that it this makes it enter the piece of wood, this is not a matter merely of statistics, which we can interpret as we wish. There is an underlying mechanism that we can observe. This is true generally. The statistics can help us to consider what we should be trying to observe as a mechanism, and we may establish theories which we can prove, or disprove, but it is not “purely subjective”.




Matthew West                           

Information  Junction

Tel: +44 1489 880185

Mobile: +44 750 3385279

Skype: dr.matthew.west





This email originates from Information Junction Ltd. Registered in England and Wales No. 6632177.

Registered office: 2 Brookside, Meadow Way, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, SG6 3JE.




From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Rich Cooper
Sent: 13 November 2011 19:44
To: '[ontolog-forum] '; 'Len Yabloko'
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Science, Statistics and Ontology


Dear Simon,


Thanks for the Hume quotes.  The antiquities of his language usage notwithstanding, his conclusions seem inescapable.  We simply cannot know cause and effect; statistical knowledge is all that is available to us, if even that.  When we can statistically predict a future event with reliability, we are exercising our experience, as categorized by the situation at hand.  But the concept of WHICH “situation at hand” is actually at hand is a purely subjective observation and is dependent on the observer and her experiences. 






Rich Cooper


Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com

9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2

From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Simon Spero
Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2011 10:50 AM
To: Len Yabloko; [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Science, Statistics and Ontology


On Sun, Nov 13, 2011 at 12:02 PM, Len Yabloko <lenyabloko@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

 Never mind that David Hume thought there was not any cause and effect to begin with. 



Hume thought no such thing. 


What he showed in section IV was that the relations between cause and effect could not be "attained by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from experience" (Enquiries, \s 23), and that these relations would not be known with certainty.


Quoting 32:


Should it be said that, from a number of uniform experiments, we 

infer a connexion between the sensible qualities and the secret powers; this, I must confess, seems the same difficulty, couched in different terms. The question still recurs, on what process of argument this inference is founded? Where is the medium, the interposing ideas, which join propositions so very wide of each other? It is confessed that the colour, consistence, and other sensible qualities of bread appear not, of themselves, to have any connexion with the secret powers of nourishment and support. For otherwise we could infer these secret powers from the first appearance of these sensible qualities, without the aid of experience; contrary to the sentiment of all philosophers, and contrary to plain matter of fact. Here, then, is our natural state of ignorance with regard to the powers and influence of all objects. How is this remedied by experience? It only shows us a number of uniform effects, resulting from certain objects, and teaches us that those particular objects, at that particular time, were endowed with such powers and forces. When a new object, endowed with similar sensible qualities, is produced, we expect similar powers and forces, and look for a like effect. From a body of like colour and consistence with bread we expect like nourishment and support. But this surely is a step or progress of the mind, which wants to be explained. When a man says, I have found, in all past instances, such sensible qualities conjoined with such secret powers: And when he says, Similar sensible qualities will always be conjoined with similar secret powers, he is not guilty of a tautology, nor are these propositions in any respect the same. You say that the one proposition is an inference from the other. But you must confess that the inference is not intuitive; neither is it demonstrative: Of what nature is it, then? To say it is experimental, is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently all their effects and influence, may change, without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some objects: Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects? What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference. No reading, no enquiry has yet been able to remove my difficulty, or give me satisfaction in a matter of such importance. Can I do better than propose the difficulty to the public, even though, perhaps, I have small hopes of obtaining a solution? We shall at least, by this means, be sensible of our ignorance, if we do not augment our knowledge


In  Section V, he proposes some  "Sceptical Solutions Of These Doubts";  quoting 44 at length:

We may observe, that, in these phaenomena, the belief of the correlative object is always presupposed; without which the relation could have no effect. The influence of the picture supposes, that we believe our friend to have once existed. Contiguity to home can never excite our ideas of home, unless webelieve that it really exists. Now I assert, that this belief, where it reaches beyond the memory or senses, is of a similar nature, and arises from similar causes, with the transition of thought and vivacity of conception here explained. When I throw a piece of dry wood into a fire, my mind is immediately carried to conceive, that it augments, not extinguishes the flame. This transition of thought from the cause to the effect proceeds not from reason. It derives its origin altogether from custom and experience. And as it first begins from an object, present to the senses, it renders the idea or conception of flame more strong and lively than any loose, floating reverie of the imagination. That idea arises immediately. The thought moves instantly towards it, and conveys to it all that force of conception, which is derived from the impression present to the senses. When a sword is levelled at my breast, does not the idea of wound and pain strike me more strongly, than when a glass of wine is presented to me, even though by accident this idea should occur after the appearance of the latter object? But what is there in this whole matter to cause such a strong conception, except only a present object and a customary transition to the idea of another object, which we have been accustomed to conjoin with the former? This is the whole operation of the mind, in all our conclusions concerning matter of fact and existence; and it is a satisfaction to find some analogies, by which it may be explained. The transition from a present object does in all cases give strength and solidity to the related idea.

Here, then, is a kind of pre-established harmony between the course of nature and the succession of our ideas; and though the powers and forces, by which the former is governed, be wholly unknown to us; yet our thoughts and conceptions have still, we find, gone on in the same train with the other works of nature. Custom is that principle, by which this correspondence has been effected; so necessary to the subsistence of our species, and the regulation of our conduct, in every circumstance and occurrence of human life. Had not the presence of an object, instantly excited the idea of those objects, commonly conjoined with it, all our knowledge must have been limited to the narrow sphere of our memory and senses; and we should never have been able to adjust means to ends, or employ our natural powers, either to the producing of good, or avoiding of evil. Those, who delight in the discovery and contemplation of

 final causes, have here ample subject to employ their wonder and admiration. 


[An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is available in a variety of formats from Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/9662  ]


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